“Mr. Libman has created literary quicksand. And his stories are sinking.”
Remember in the sixth grade being forced to write a report on Silas Marner? And how you’d much rather be outdoors on a beautiful day playing with friends? Daniel Libman’s Married But Looking brings those wistful memories flooding back.
Here we have 15 stories of people behaving badly. Unfortunately, they’re not being so bad that they’d end up on the eleven o’clock news, which, if they were, might make for more dynamic stories.
No, these are simple, misdemeanor-level, shabby mistreatments of others; and most of the miscreants are men. Making matters worse, few of the stories arrive at conclusions. There are few sentences that merit quoting here—neither bad nor exciting—and even though few approach the poetic, these gems are buried among the humdrum.
Then there are the failed metaphors and similes that don’t quite work: “Her fluency in French is something Silvers always knew, the way a manager knows what college an employee attended from reading a résumé.”
There’s some careless writing, too: “he was very aware of Elizabeth unzipping her jacket and her beige shirt and the slow way she chewed her food as if wringing the taste out of every bite.” And “Miller guessed she was fingering the ice cubes with her tongue . . .”
It’s difficult to appreciate fiction that offers no characters deserving of empathy or sympathy—not that every reader is perfect. In choosing to write about marginal losers—largely inconsiderate people with character flaws, inflated egos, and twisted morals—Mr. Libman has created literary quicksand. And his stories are sinking.